Charles Vess talks us through some of his art for the new il­lus­trated The Books Of Earth­sea...

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We’ve never been to Ur­sula K Le Guin’s fan­tasy land – but these new il­lus­tra­tions make us wish we had.

Ur­sula K Le Guin’s The Wiz­ard Of Earth­sea saga is about to be is­sued in one vol­ume – all 1,008 pages of it! The book marks a four-year col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Le Guin and artist Charles Vess. “I was very happy that be­fore she passed away, she had ap­proved ev­ery­thing in the book ex­cept for the very last draw­ing,” Vess tells Red Alert. “Of course, I wish she could have held the fin­ished book in her hands.” WS

The Books Of Earth­sea: The Com­plete Il­lus­trated Edi­tion is pub­lished by Gol­lancz on 25 Oc­to­ber.

“Most of the cov­ers down the years have given a light-skinned, some­times blonde Ged – and he is cer­tainly not de­scribed that way! Ur­sula was very de­ter­mined that he should be brown-skinned. Her fa­ther was an an­thro­pol­o­gist, mostly work­ing with Pa­cific North­west In­di­ans, and she sent me a photograph of him stand­ing with a group of na­tive Amer­i­cans. The per­son stand­ing to the left of him in the photo, she said: ‘That’s Ged’.”

“Imag­in­ing the ev­ery­day was one of Ur­sula’s big­gest con­cerns. She said that most epic fan­tasy has to do with mar­bled halls and brightly clad king and queens, and her books are about the peo­ple that live on the land. This im­age is from the be­gin­ning of a story about a wiz­ard es­cap­ing a tragedy. He’s lost in the marsh, and the cow’s walk­ing steadily in one di­rec­tion, and he just puts his hand on his side and goes with him.”

“This is from the fifth book, which is mostly about Te­nar. Ged has come back from the other lands, and is de­pleted of magic. I usu­ally just start paint­ing and let the colours come. I knew the dragon was a sort of red­dish colour and I knew it had to be on a rock face, so I just started play­ing with the oranges and browns. I also com­pletely re­drew Te­nar’s fig­ure; she was more ac­tive be­fore, and Ur­sula said she needed to be more cir­cum­spect.”

“This is from a short story that marks a tran­si­tion in her think­ing; that hu­mans can be dragons. This is set on a hill that al­lows no lies. The girl trans­forms into a dragon, which is her true self. There’s also a thing about priests be­ing all male and celi­bate. They’re miss­ing a huge part of the mean­ing of the world. The sixth book is about right­ing that wrong. It’s amaz­ing it was writ­ten so many years ago, and it’s so rel­e­vant to ev­ery­thing go­ing on to­day.”

“One of the things I tried not to do was por­traits. Mil­lions of peo­ple have read these books, and they know what the char­ac­ters look like. I didn’t want to get in the way of that, so I tried to keep ev­ery­thing at the mid­dle dis­tance – or even fur­ther away.”

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